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October 01, 2011

Atlas.Ti 6 vs NVivo 9: A Comparison

Follow-up to Potential uses of CAQDA software packages from A.Hariri's

A couple of days ago I received an e-mail from one of my research blog (in Arabic) followers asking for my opinion on choosing NVivo or Atlas.Ti. I've sent her a summary of some of the issues that I faced when I tried both of them.

Today, I was asked by a friend of mine, Salma Patel of why I chose Atlas.Ti over NVivo as well, therefore, I decided to write a detailed post about this to help those who may be looking into this as well.


I found that Atlas.Ti 6 and NVivo 9 were two of the most used software packages out there. So, I went ahead to do some research and I decided to try them both. I ended up choosing Atlas.Ti although I was much inclined to use Nvivo for the following reasons:

Nvivo stores everything within 1 project file. There is the obvious risk of losing everything if this file becomes corrupted.

Yes, I will make backups, but I still want to be safe. Furthermore, what if there is a bug in the software itself? It wouldn't really be able to access anything.

Atlas.Ti has a project file that only stores projects information and certain details. Documents/PDFS do not have to be imported into the project. Atlas.Ti can get them where they are :).

In the worst case scenario that something may be wrong with the file, you can still access external documents such as PDFs.

I already have a working structure of my documents (Thanks to Mendeley), why would I need to copy those files over to NVivo too? Waste of space in my opinion. Some could say delete the PDFs from Mendeley and just have the record for each document. Well, this can be done but then, I wouldn't really be using Mendeley's nice features such as effective searching within PDFs and pictures, etc..

Because Atlas.Ti will reach your documents where they are, you could have Mendeley arrange your library into a certain structure, then, you ask Atlas.ti to link those documents to your project.

Note: You may want Mendeley to sort your documents into folders based on Years at the the top level so that you could easily see which document your passage you are reading if you output a list of passages within Atlas.Ti. I have also had Mendeley rename the files so that Author's names are in the begining of the file name for the same reason too.

Because it relies on 1 project file, there is no doubt that the file size would become bigger as you go on. Project file remains very small.
I found NVivo to be a bit slow although I was working with an empty project... Still going fast
The bigger the project size the laggier NVivo becomes. Would not lag as much because the project file which runs the show is relatively small.
Until recently, NVivo had a very bad support for PDFs and I was surprised to see the company taking their time (months!!!) to release an update that would fix this although I would expect this to be a core feature in this age! I haven't looked into the update which they said should fix any PDF issues because I had already decided to go with Atlas.Ti. Excellent support for PDFs!
Due to the above point, I believe that NVivo should look more into updating more frequently, especially when certain things should be fixed and are demanded to be fixed by customers in the forums Many updates released continuously which improves the way Atlas.Ti works or fixes bugs and so on. In fact, I think I've seen 4 minor updates for Atlas.Ti within the last 2-3 months. It tells me as a customer that they care!
Although a bit slow sometimes, the UI is better than Atlas.Ti which was one of the main reasons I was seriously hoping to use it. However, the late release of the update and the slow response killed any chance I had of using it. UI not as nice as NVivo, but, as I started working more with Atlas.Ti, I started to appreciate the UI and how it is arranged. However, it is obvious that I am more interested in performance.


These are what I think some of the key issues I based my comparison on, when it comes to features, both software packages offer very similar set of features.

After writing this comparison, I have to say that I do not hate NVivo, I simply think it wasn't for me. Others may find working with NVivo is better for their own reasons. I still follow the development of both NVivo and Atlas.Ti, and I still retweet some of their announcements and so on to my Research Blog (in Arabic) followers.

I hope some of you out there find this helpfu! and I am happy to learn about your experiences with any of the mentioned software packages.


Potential uses of CAQDA software packages

About a year ago, I was looking into Computer assisted qualitative data analysis software (CAQDA) software packages that may help me in doing my literature review by allowing me to code certain passages within documents into codes that I could then easily explore or retrieve.

I think one of the potentials I saw in some CAQDA software packages is that if you code useful passages within lots of papers and documents into codes (which are similar to keywords), this will make it easier for you to retrieve those stored passages of texts within different documents.

For example: if I have read 100 PDFs and assigned things that I believe relevant to my research into codes, it would be much easier to just output the passages that belong to a certain code within those 100 PDFs in 3-5 pages (since other information within each document will be hidden) showing where every passage came from and how they can relate to each other (You can use relationships between them too!). This would surely be much easier than having to check all those 100 PDFs to try and find bits and pieces here and there that belong to the topic I am trying to write about.

Another potential where I personally think CAQDA could help is building a rich research library of journal papers and different documents over the years. Because, in many cases, a PhD might be the first step of your research career, especially if you are a lecturer or someone that is interested in publishing journal papers in the same field. I guess what I am trying to say is, lets assume that while doing your PhD you come across 100 journal papers that you consider important in your research field. After that, you become a lecturer at some university where you are expected to do more research. So you read more journal papers and you assign more information to codes within the CAQDA software. After a couple of years, you could have a very rich library of papers that you have already read and classified into certain codes or keywords.

After that, all you have to do really when you want to write a journal paper is ask the CAQDA to output information related to a keyword and start writing.


For instance, you may choose to first write a background, so, you output background information which you store in a code. Next, you may choose to become more specific, so, you may want to identify previous gaps and even gaps that may still be in need of research. You output information assigned to a code "Gaps in....." and you find all different arguments by different authors, etc...

I believe that using a CAQDA helps a lot when it comes to writing, if it was used by the researcher while he was doing his literature review.

I know that some would argue that it is not good to just read certain parts of the paper and assign them and just forget the rest of the paper may see like taking things out of context, but this is only true if the researcher himself didn't pay attention to that.


Of course I am only scratching the surface here as most CAQDA have much more advanced and useful features such as reports & networks diagrams where you could visually show the relationship between different passages. For instance, you could show a number of authors disagreeing with author A while may others are supporting him.


I have been working with a CAQDA software (Atlas.Ti) mainly as part of my literature review as I believe it keeps me organised and helps me find information that I have already looked into much faster than I would usually do. I will continue to use it as I go on with my PhD and I hope that I learn more about it and try the various features available and be able to share what I find or anything new later on.


Books I Enjoyed

As I buy/view books, I update this list with the books that I most liked:
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Little About me


Abdulrahman Hariri's Picture

Name: Abdulrahman Hariri

PhD student at WMG.

I’ve started a research education website in 2009 to help people from the Middle East learn how to do scientific research. The website continues to attract tens of thousands each month and has over half a million followers on social media.





My Websites (in Arabic):
البحث العلمي
الأكاديمية التعليمية
الابتكار و ريادة الأعمال


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